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Violence, School Achievement and Future Criminality
By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Published: 08/06/2018

Violence gun I learned early in my criminal justice career that school achievement and a student’s background were inextricably intertwined. Teachers told me that child abuse, domestic violence, and exposure to violence in the community were all predictors of not doing well in school. They said that many students in high crime areas were multi-repeat victims of violence, either directly or vicariously.

I had the same conversations with treatment providers years later who suggested that most offenders had backgrounds of abuse, neglect or violence along with poor records for school achievement.

I’m not excusing criminal behavior. If you do the crime, you need to do the time. But the connections need to be examined and discussed. The dynamics need to be understood.

New data about traumatic brain injuries helps explain why so many don’t do well. Add child abuse and neglect, mental health, PTSD and substance abuse concerns, it collectively suggests that there are reasons for dysfunction.

Personal dysfunction has been examined for decades as to why offenders constantly make bad decisions. Most offenders recidivate; they return to the criminal justice system in massive numbers, Crime in America.

Even when provided with programs to address dysfunctional lifestyles, the vast majority of offenders do not do well, Crime in America. If all of this is true, then we need to refocus our energies on exposure to violence, especially domestic violence and child abuse and neglect.

Violence Affects Students

From The Crime Report: Research has shown that schoolchildren exposed to neighborhood violence can have a tougher time learning, as they experience more stress and depression than their peers growing up in safe neighborhoods.

A Johns Hopkins University sociologist discovered that the consequences of neighborhood violence reach further than previously known, even spilling over to students who come from safe neighborhoods, the Washington Post reports.

Using data from Chicago, Julia Burdick-Will linked exposure to neighborhood violence to a drop in test scores, an effect that extended to students coming from communities that experienced little or no violence.

“The individual effects may really be the tip of the iceberg. . . . We could potentially see this effect in schools for more than just the kid who lived around the corner from a homicide,” said Burdick-Will, who studies urban schools. Her findings were published in the journal Sociology of Education. “You can detect what seems to be the effect of . . . a classmate’s exposure to violence on everyone in the classroom.”

Schools are recognizing trauma as a factor that may be derailing learning, with more districts training educators on how to teach students who may be grappling with traumatizing events.

Alex King, a 17-year-old anti-violence activist in Chicago, has grown up surrounded by gun violence. His nephew was fatally shot the day after school let out one year. King helped organize the End of the School Year Peace March and Rally in Chicago last month with survivors of the Parkland, Fl., school shooting, and he found out that night that a friend had been killed. “I’ve been shot at multiple times. I’ve lost family and friends to violence,” King said. “It kind of, like, became a part of life, violence. It’s like something that you can’t escape,” The Crime Report.

54 Percent of Offenders Have A Serious Brain Injury

“Through a project that began five years ago, researchers have screened 4,100 people in jail, on probation or assigned to drug courts in Denver and five other counties to find out how many have traumatic brain injury — an impairment that could impact the likelihood of their return to the criminal justice system.”

“The results were stark: 54 percent had a history of serious brain injury, compared with 8 percent of the general population.”

“The initial screen used by researchers is a list of questions about previous head injuries, concussions, car accidents, assaults or partner abuse that involved blows to the head. Researchers aren’t counting people who’ve had their “bell rung” playing sports or were concussed after a fall. They’re concerned with the more serious injuries — those who’ve been knocked unconscious for 30 minutes or more or been in a coma; people who lost consciousness before age 15; and those who have sustained multiple blows to the head, perhaps because of domestic violence,” Denver Post.

Most Offenders Have Mental Health Issues

Those dealing with the offender population often describe many as, “Having a chip on their shoulder the size of Montana.” Hostility is often an everyday trait. Many of us believe that it’s related to massive child abuse and neglect, Crime in America.

We’ve known since a 2006 self-report study that more than half of all prison and jail inmates have mental health problems. These estimates represented 56% of state prisoners, 45% of federal prisoners, and 64% of jail inmates.

“Twenty percent of all US adults have some form of mental illness, but very few of them have a mental illness that will increase their likelihood of violence,” Slate.Com.

A 2017 report states that more than a third (37%) of prisoners had been told by a mental health professional in the past that they had a mental health disorder.

Forty-four percent of jail inmates had been told by a mental health professional in the past that they had a mental health disorder.

Some suggest that the numbers above are an undercount. Many are reluctant to admit to mental health concerns, Crime in America.

DOJ Report on Substance Abuse

More than half (58%) of state prisoners and two-thirds (63%) of sentenced jail inmates met the criteria for drug dependence or abuse, according to data collected through the National Inmate Surveys (NIS).

In comparison, approximately 5% of the total general population age 18 or older met the criteria for drug dependence or abuse, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

There is always a dispute between a formal diagnosis with drug use and mental health and the actual numbers of offenders impacted. It’s routine for correctional agencies to report that 80 to 90 percent of offenders have a substance abuse background.

PTSD

There are articles about people who live in high crime communities having PTSD because of their exposure to violence in their families and community. High crime area violence seems to be corrupting; it may influence people who can see violence as a necessary component of life, Crime in America.

Conclusions

Teachers have been saying for decades that students directly or indirectly exposed to violence do poorly in school. Criminologists and criminal justice professionals say the same thing regarding life achievements and sound decision making.

The vast majority of our discussions about crime, police encounters that go wrong, treatment failures and recidivism may be explained by the fact that the people we encounter are very troubled people with poor school records, brain injuries, PTSD, and mental health issues who self-medicate through drugs and alcohol.

As a police officer, you are likely to encounter multiple people daily who have very problematic backgrounds who are concurrently under the influence.

As a parole and probation agent, you deal with people who just can’t seem to function normally which is why the vast majority of people under supervision have large numbers of technical violations in addition to new crimes.

As a treatment provider, you wonder why so many people return to the criminal justice system.

As a teacher, you understand why some students do not do well regardless of your efforts.

It’s probable that the conditions mentioned above explain the chaotic nature of the lives of poor performers. It’s equally probable that the root cause of justice involved people is child abuse that few are willing to acknowledge or address, Crime in America.

We have to come to grips that drug, alcohol and mental health treatments are expensive and have to be administered multiple times before they take effect.

It’s also obvious that we cannot treat our way out of this problem without a massive influx of new funds. The literature constantly cites examples of people not getting treatment. If we are going to adequately deal with school achievement or crime in America, it must be through a comprehensive approach addressing child abuse and neglect, mental health and substance abuse.

It also means that teachers, police, correctional officers and parole and probation agents need greatly enhanced training or specialized units of highly trained people to deal with the obviously dysfunctional.

Thus when things go south, there have to be reasons why.

Reprinted with permission from http://www.crimeinamerica.net.

Contact us at crimeinamerica@gmail.com or for media on deadline, use leonardsipes@gmail.com.

Leonard A. Sipes, Jr has thirty-five years of experience supervising public affairs for national and state criminal justice agencies. He is the Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse and the Former Director of Information Management for the National Crime Prevention Council. He has a Post Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and is the author of the book "Success With the Media". He can be reached via email at leonardsipes@gmail.com.


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